High biodegradability and relatively low toxicity have long made esters universally recognized as the best base fluids for synthetic-based muds in regards to environmental performance. A major limiting factor in the use of ester-based fluids, particularly in deep water, is the inherently high kinematic viscosity, a condition that is magnified in the cold temperatures encountered in deepwater risers. These higher viscosities are believed to be especially critical in deepwater wells where lack of overburden causes a severely narrowed window between pore pressures and fracture gradients. Other implications of these higher viscosities include limitations on oil/water ratios, mud weights, and drill solids tolerance.

A new low viscosity (LV) ester has been developed which overcomes these limitations while maintaining the significant environmental advantages of the original esters. The new LV ester has a kinematic viscosity nearly equal to that of currently used internal olefins. It allows formulations of drilling fluids that can be used effectively in virtually all drilling applications in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), including deep water.

The GOM test protocol was developed to prove the viability of the LV ester as a base fluid. This protocol was designed to consider all conditions drilling fluids are expected to encounter during the course of a well. It evaluates the temperature stability, low temperature rheological properties, and the contamination tolerance of drilling fluids formulated with an LV ester base fluid. Three LV ester fluids were subjected to this protocol: an 11.0 ppg mud; a 14.0 ppg mud; and a 16.0 ppg mud. Results from this extensive laboratory testing indicate new LV ester-based fluids have overcome previous limitations, exhibiting exceptional cold temperature rheological properties, the ability to use a wide range of mud weights and oil/water ratios, and a high tolerance to contamination. In July 2000, an LV ester-based drilling fluid was used to drill a 3651 ft. interval of a GOM well in 3,669 ft. of water. The LV ester fluid performed well in comparison to the same interval drilled on an offset well with an internal olefin fluid. The initial results from that field trial are included in this paper.

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